Blues and R&B 45s of the ’50s

IN 2001, THINGS CHANGED. I was several years removed from O’Sullivan Woodside and Goldmine and Krause Publications. So I published The Umphred Guide To Blues And Rhythm & Blues 45s Of The 50s under my own imprint, Monaural Press.

I did it the old-fashioned way, paying a printer to make the books. It cost me a fortune. But I knew I had a book that was gonna fly!

Then something happened.

Things changed . . .


As the first printing of The Umphred Guide To Blues And Rhythm & Blues 45s Of The 50s was for a limited edition, advanced copy, it did not have finished cover artwork. Instead it looked like this: I hand-stamped “Advance Copy” on each book. With few exceptions, all copies of this book look like this—not that most of you will ever see a copy. 1

My vision quest to Upper Darby

When I first conceived of this book in the early ’90s, my first—and only choice—for co-author was the legendary Val Shively. His used-record store R&B Records had been a fixture in the Philadelphia area for decades, and his knowledge of the rhythm & blues field was legendary!

Shively had all kinds of cool collectables in his store: a stick from Elvis Presley’s yard and Stevie Wonder’s shades!

I told him that I was also from Pennsylvania and would be back visiting family. I asked if I could visit him at his store and have a few words.

“You’d be wasting your time,” he said.

“I don’t mind.”

“You’d be wasting my time,” he said.

I drove 476 down to Upper Darby from Wilkes-Barre and found R&B Records. It was lavishly arrayed with super-rare collectables: hanging from the ceiling, I saw a twig with a note stating it had been taken from the grounds of Graceland.

I was moved, and exclaimed, “Wow! This is, like, as close to Elvis as I’m ever gonna get. Until I die, of course.”

Val ignored me.

Also suspending in air was a pair of black plastic shades with a note telling me that they had belonged to Stevie Wonder: “Hey, are these the ones he wore in Muscle Beach Party?”

Val ignored me.

You’re wasting your time

And so it went until I joined in a conversation with a couple of “regulars” about the Phillies’ prospects over the next few seasons.

At this, Val glanced in my direction.

I heard that Madonna had given Val her cones and he had them in the back room!

After a couple hours, he looked at me and said, “Alright. You! Wise-guy. Who are you and wuddaya want?”

I introduced myself.

“You’re wasting your time,” he said.

“I don’t mind.”

“You’re wasting my time,” he said.

Eventually, we ended up at a little diner he favored and had dinner. Val told me flatly that he wasn’t interested in co-authoring a book with me. Then he gave me the best advice of my nascent career:

“You don’t want me,” he said.

“I don’t?”

“You want Tefteller,” he said.

Val Shively and R&B Records in an undated photo but looking just about the way I remember him (except he’s almost smiling here).

The other R&B 45 guide

There was a price guide for R&B group vocal records. The guide listed only those records with ballads; uptempo records were not included. Which is fine: the field is specific and the book met a need. 2

Except that the author would not assign values beyond a certain number. Consequently, any record listed with the book’s top value (and it changed with time) could be worth merely that value, or twice that value!

Or thrice that value!!

Hell, even ten times that value!!!

For example, the Jets’ Heaven Above Me (Gee 1020) might be listed at $500 or with no value at all, just a note saying it was too rare to assign a value. That it might sell for an easy $5,000 was not mentioned.

While this may sound unbelievable to many readers, it really wasn’t that big of a deal with most of the group vocal collectors. Few of them would ever see the really rare records, so who cared what they were worth!

My book would assign specific values that resembled the market for each record at the time.


At the time I was researching the book, a VG+ copy of the Jets’ Heaven Above Me (Gee 1020) sold for more than $6,000. Since this was the only copy to have sold in years, it was the sole sale upon which I could establish a value. I listed it in the book with a suggested NM value $8,000-12,000. (Note the copy pictured here is a bootleg/reproduction, which can be purchased for under $10 if you know where to look.)

Blues and R&B 45s of the ’50s

John and I met, clicked, and mapped out a project. Compiling the basic discography was my job; assigning values to the records was John’s. I then sent our first draft to a handful of knowledgeable collectors and dealers. They made corrections, additions, and suggestions, which I added to the basic discography.

This was sent back to John to inspect and approve the changes. This second draft was then sent to a different group of experts. They made more corrections, additions, and suggestions, which I added to the basic discography.

This third draft was sent to Tefteller for a final tweaking. That draft with that discography and those values became The Umphred Guide To Blues And Rhythm & Blues 45s Of The 50s.

Due to the enormous expense of doing the book with a standard off-set press with relatively high-quality paper and printing, I was only able to do a first printing of 500 copies.

By now, every one who collected blues or rhythm & blues 45s, or who bought and sold rare records, knew about this book.

Priced at $50, I expected the first 500 to be gone in days.

The few copies of the book that had sold through pre-publication promotion were generally given Hallelujahs by optimistic collectors, or although the more cynical people in the field gave it grudging praise. 3

Then, on September 11, something happened.


In 2009, John Tefteller purchased a 45 rpm of Sun 183, D.A. Hunt’s Lonesome Old Jail / Greyhound Blues. It was the first 45 of that number ever found; it was in VG- and he paid just over $10,000. Even as a 78, this is a very rare record, but 45s weren’t believed to exist until the one was found. (Note the copy pictured here is a bootleg/reproduction, which can be purchased for under $10 if you know where to look.)

Something happened

When the smoke cleared in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania, something happened to the Internet: business came to a halt. People around the world were stunned into inactivity by both the horror of the events on 9/11 and by the anticipation of more. One of the symptoms of the shock was people simply stopped buying things.

Including price guides for record collectors. 

The set-back was one in a series of personal disasters in my life that eventually sent me into a tailspin of deep, relentless depression—something I had never experienced before. But that’s another story. 4

Given the history of record price guides in general, and those devoted to blues and rhythm & blues in particular, collectors had every right to expect little from my book.

The Umphred-Tefteller book today

I eventually sold most of the 500 copies. My original intention was to use the $25,000 to print a second edition with a full-color cover, interior illustrations, and several articles about the hobby written especially for the book.

But it took too long to sell the books and the impact of the $25,000 was diluted with time—especially as I was almost incapacitated with depression.

Today, the book is considered the best of its kind. The few people that were lucky to buy a copy fifteen years ago rarely (if ever) give them up.

Consequently, I haven’t seen a single copy for sale on Amazon or Ebay. 3

John Tefteller with one of the many rare blues 78s in his collection.

The World’s Rarest Records

As I said, Mr T and I met and we clicked, professionally and personally. So now I let John speak for himself:

“My name is John Tefteller, and I have been buying and selling rare phonograph records for the past 35 years. I have a worldwide reputation for my knowledge of rare records, especially blues 78s.

My personal collection contains some of the rarest records on the planet. My auctions in Discoveries magazine featured some of the rarest records on the planet. Many have sold for record prices.

For top quality records, no one can top World’s Rarest Records! I have the world’s largest inventory of blues, rhythm & blues, and rock & roll 78s with over 75,000 in stock.”

The above was taken from John’s website World’s Rarest Records, dated December 6, 2016 (see illustration below).

About my other books

There are eight articles on this site explaining the various books I published for record collectors. They are best read in the following order, which is roughly chronological:

1. O’Sullivan Woodside’s Rock & Roll Record Albums Price Guide

2. O’Sullivan Woodside’s Elvis Presley Record Price Guide

3. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Record Albums (1st edition)

4. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Record Albums (5th edition)

5. Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide

6. Goldmine’s Price Guide to Collectible Jazz Albums

7. A Touch Of Gold – Elvis Record & Memorabilia Price Guide

8. Blues and R&B 45s of the ’50s Price Guide


1   The Umphred Guide To Blues And Rhythm & Blues 45s Of The 50s was not named because of an insecure ego. (Hah!) I featured my name in the title to establish immediate name-recognition with my past work for O’Sullivan Woodside and Goldmine.

2  The ideal record in this genre is a ballad on a 45 recorded in the early ’50s by a five-part harmonizing black group. But as the hobby grew, four-part groups were accepted as normal and even white groups found their way into the genre.

3   Given the history of record collectors price guides in general, and those devoted to blues and rhythm & blues records in particular, these buyers and sellers had every right to expect little from my book.

4   It took me years to recover, with lots of medication: anti-depressant meds, anti-anxiety meds, anti-insomnia meds, etc. And even more self-medication: during this time, Jack Daniels was my best friend.

5   A Seattle dealer told me he has standing offers from two customers who will pay $200 for a used copy, but he’s never seen one to buy for resale.


This is the homepage to Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records website as it appeared in November 2016. Within the site the reader can find articles, pictures, and John’s latest auction of rare 78s, 45, EPs, and LPs.


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